Den Of Geek Book Club: The Magicians

Feature Kaci Ferrell
15 Jul 2014 - 07:00

Kaci offers up Lev Grossman's The Magicians as the latest subject of the Den Of Geek Book Club...

For a lot of people in the geek community, our introduction to nerdom came through a need for escape. There are lots of reasons we might've needed that escape — maybe a bad situation at home, or bullies at school, or even nothing at all; the knowledge that life is all there is can sometimes be difficult to bear. For whatever reason, many of us needed an "out," a way to be someone different for a while, or a fantasy of living in some other world in some other time, when things could be different. As a culture, we've built up a myth about it — "It gets better." Rather than combat the problem, we wave some other time, some other place, in front of our young people to give them something to cling onto until they can make their own escape.

So many of us picked up a copy of Harry Potter, or imagined ourselves as Jedis. These things kept us going. Like the myth of "it gets better," they let us imagine that one day, something would happen that would change our lives forever and turn us into who we were really meant to be.

Quentin Coldwater isn't so different from many of us. That's all I could think while reading The Magicians, how much he felt like a younger me. After all, how many of us still joke that we're waiting on our Hogwarts letter? The Magicians feels like a cautionary tale about this waiting: Quentin spends his time in Brooklyn waiting to be swept off into Fillory, he spends his time at Brakebills waiting to be swept off into his real life as an adult magician, and then in turn spends his adult life waiting yet again for Fillory to find him. The painful truth that The Magicians gets at is that "it gets better" is a lie. It might, it might not, but in the end it all falls on you: time and location can't change what's inside you. If you're truly unhappy, then that change has to start from within.

I could talk to you about how oddly paced I found the novel to be, with four years flying by in only two hundred pages. I could tell you how I found certain aspects of Quentin's character to be repulsive. I could drone on about the structure of the novel and how it could be tighter. I could do all those things, but ultimately, they don't matter to me. They're not what I take away from the novel. What I'm taking, what's been impressed upon me at a time when I admittedly needed to hear it, is that waiting around for your real life to begin is an excellent way of never living your life at all.

And then there's Martin Chatwin, the man who threw himself into the fantasy world so deeply that he came out angry and bitter and resentful. We know these people, too, the ones in our community who hate the entire world. The fact that Quentin could've very easily become him is a wake up call.

I hope you enjoyed this month's selection as much as I did; hit up the comments to tell me what you thought, and as always, I am happy to hear your recommendations for future selections.

The next book will be Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Aliya will be here to talk to you about it on the 1st of August.

Read about the previous fiction entry in the Den Of Geek Book Club, Sparrow Hill Road, here.

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